Congress chief elections: Will Digvijaya Singh throw his hat in the ring?
The Congress president’s election may witness more twists and turns over the next few days if frontrunner Ashok Gehlot remains stubborn on the Rajasthan chief minister’s post as the high command is unlikely to accept his conditions.
Gehlot has so far demonstrated a rigid stance on the issue, refusing to accept his bête-noire Sachin Pilot as the next chief minister of Rajasthan. While he is not averse to continuing as both chief minister and party president, top sources reveal that he is absolutely clear that Pilot isn’t a wise choice.
While Shashi Tharoor is almost certain to contest — he met central election authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry on Wednesday to understand the procedural details — there has to be an official candidate, undeclared though, who enjoys the trust of the entrenched forces. The name of Digvijaya Singh cropped up on Wednesday as a possible alternative if the Gehlot plan falls through.
It appears that Digvijaya nurtures an interest in becoming Congress president if nobody from the Nehru-Gandhi family is in the fray. Rahul Gandhi hasn’t shown any indication of changing his mind and it is almost final that he is not going to contest. While he may fly to Delhi on the morning of September 23, a rest day for the Bharat Jodo Yatra, he will return by the evening after meeting his mother who has returned to India after a medical check-up.
The nomination process starts on September 24 and ends on September 30, a brief period when Rahul isn’t scheduled to be in Delhi.
What lends credence to the Digvijaya alternative is his refusal to rule himself out of the race. He is the chairman of the committee looking after the Bharat Jodo Yatra and is back as a member of Rahul’s inner coterie after a long break. Continuously walking with the Yatra at the advanced age of 75, Digvijaya told The Telegraph over phone from Kochi: “Anybody can contest. You will know the reality on September 30 evening.”
On whether he was planning to file his nomination, Digvijaya said: “I am a loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family. I always work in the larger interest of the party. Right now, my full dedication is to the Yatra.”
Pressed for a clearer answer, he said: “Three things are non-negotiable in my politics: my loyalty to the Gandhi family, my commitment to the welfare of poor, SC-ST and other vulnerable sections of society and my determination to fight against the Right-wing communal forces.”
The political translation of these assertions is: I too have the credentials to become Congress president. It is difficult to guess whether this ploy has been woven to mount pressure on Gehlot, with the subtle message that he is not the only option, or there are forces among the loyalists who prefer Digvijaya to the Rajasthan chief minister. Digvijaya has been in national politics for a much longer period than Gehlot and has a deep network within the party organisational structure.
While there is no doubt that Digvijaya will be as formidable a candidate against Tharoor as Gehlot, both would like to join the fray following a tacit understanding with Rahul. Both sing the “loyalty tune” and are indeed part of the inner circle at this critical juncture. The only difference is that Digvijaya comes without any preconditions and Gehlot is uncompromising on Rajasthan politics.
It is not going to be easy to resolve this conundrum; worse, this has exposed the centrality of the Gandhi family despite their claims of neutrality in the electoral process. While Pilot flew to Kochi on Tuesday night and participated in the Yatra on Wednesday with the sole motive of discussing these issues with Rahul, Gehlot met Sonia in the afternoon and will be flying to Kerala to meet Rahul on Thursday morning.
Party general secretary K.C. Venugopal, who is walking with Rahul, had to fly to Delhi for a meeting with Sonia on Tuesday night, indicating the growing complexities after Tharoor’s likely entry into the fray. The anger and frustration of some incumbent office-bearers over Tharoor’s decision hint at the unease in the party over the unexpected turn of events. Tharoor may have the backing of disgruntled elements, apart from whatever is left of the G-23 cabal of dissidents.
What transpired in the crucial meeting between Sonia and Gehlot on Wednesday won’t come out but Venugopal said she reiterated her neutrality to ensure a fair election. Gehlot will now meet Rahul in his last attempt to persuade him to take over the reins of the party, and the future course of action in Rajasthan, on Thursday. If he has to file the nomination, he will do so on September 26, an auspicious day in accordance with the Hindu tradition.